Ugh, the seasonal ailment. If your Christmas and New Year were spent largely in bed, struggling and sniffing your way through a winter cold, or worse, the flu, you have our sympathy.
Some of you might be suffering still. Others might be about to succumb. Either way, having a cold or the flu makes for a very miserable start to the year.
How do we get over them? And (we whisper) what actually is a cold? How does it differ from the flu? Are there are any miracle cures? Or should we just grin (we mean, scowl) and bear it?
Here we reveal some facts about colds and flu you might not know, and dispense a few useful tips on how to navigate your way through them...
What is a cold?
A (mild) viral infectious disease, mainly associated with nasal problems. As many as 200 viruses can cause one – rhinoviruses are most common – and symptoms include a blocked or runny nose, sore throat, sneezing and a sore throat.
When is a cold most contagious?
The bad news is you become contagious BEFORE symptoms even begin to show. In some cases, this could be days before. Yes, we've all heard the theory that once the symptoms arrive you're no longer contagious, but sadly, that's rubbish. You will remain contagious until your symptoms have vanished (sometimes up to two weeks later). Sorry!
How does a cold spread?
When infected particles from an infected person spread into the air, or onto a surface, and are inhaled, or enter into the mouth/nose/eyes, of someone not yet infected. So you could catch a cold from inhaling a droplet from someone's sneeze, or from touching an infected droplet on a work keyboard and then, say, rubbing your eye.
What is the flu?
Although the flu shares some of the same symptoms as a common cold – blocked/runny nose, sneezing etc – it's actually caused by very different viruses. 200 viruses cause a cold, whereas just three cause the flu. These viruses have numerous strains, however, hence why the flu vaccine changes yearly to combat them.
Unlike a cold, flu comes on quickly. Symptoms can include fever, muscle pains and fatigue, so temperatures ranging between 100-104F, sweating and feeling absolutely exhausted, are common.
When is the flu most contagious?
Generally speaking, you become contagious the day your symptoms start. Flu tends to clear up within a week however, so in many cases, you won't be infectious beyond seven days.
How does the flu spread?
Like a cold. When someone sneezes or coughs, infected droplets are propelled about a metre outwards. They then float around in the air until eventually they land on a surface, where they will remain 'alive' for up to 24 hours afterwards.
How to prevent infection from colds and flu...
a.) Wash your hands with soap and warm water.
b.) Cleaning surfaces you share with others – eg computer keyboards, the telephone, your desk...
c.) Covering your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough (just good manners!) prevents spreading the virus to others.
d.) Not leave snotty tissues lying around (a pretty obvious one)
e.) Talking to your doctor about getting the flu vaccine
Does Vitamin C prevent colds and flu?
NOPE! As a 2013 review of studies into Vitc C and colds concluded, Vitamin C supplements failed to reduce the incidence of colds in the general population, thus 'routine vitamin C supplementation is not justified'.
How do we cure the ailments?
You can't cure colds or flu, but you can do things to help ease the symptoms. Such as...
1.) Staying hydrated by drinking water. Lots of water.
2.) Resting. It's all very tempting to battle on through, but whilst it might be possible with a cold (unlikely with the flu) the best thing to do is rest for a day or two.
3.) Sipping warm liquids, like broth or tea. This can help sooth sore throats and help enable mucus flow.
4.) Controlling the pain – with paracetamol, ibuprofen or over-the-counter painkillers, as suggested by the NHS.
5.) If you are at a higher risk of becoming seriously ill – such as, if you're pregnant or have diabetes – the NHS advises that flu sufferers visit a GP.
For further information on both colds and flu, visit NHS.uk!